A view from the top
Tom Owen

Tom Owen is Co-Director of My Home Life.

Reflections on the last decade

When Julienne Meyer and I first began the work of My Home Life ten years ago, we didn’t think that a small project, founded by National Care Forum and Help the Aged, would develop into a programme working nationally and internationally to promote quality of life in care homes.

A core value for me has always been the need for My Home Life to immerse itself in the sector, helping to understand the experience of those living in, dying in, working in and visiting care homes from a range of lenses and perspectives. Most of the contact with the sector has been via the 1,000 care home managers that we have worked with as part of our Leadership Support programme. These managers are the My Home Life ‘movement’. They have helped us to remain grounded in the real day-to-day experience of care homes, and convey the good practice and the challenges they face to the wider world.

Over the decade, I have had the privilege of hearing stories of care home practice that are so touching they give me goose-bumps. Often, the stories convey a beautiful sense of love and kindness between staff and residents which, in this harsh world, feels rare and wonderful. Almost in the same breath, we hear stories that are deeply upsetting. The perceived threats posed by the wider world of commissioning, safeguarding, regulation; the ever-mounting paperwork or new initiatives that take managers away from their role of promoting quality.

It is deeply disturbing how many of the managers we have worked with have left social care on health grounds. How much of this is due to ever-increasing stress, the complexity of the work, the constant requirement to do more for less and the fear-based culture that keeps managers awake at night and puts a stranglehold on innovation? Sometimes, it feels that all we can do is offer a space for these managers to breathe, reflect, find some surplus energy, and ‘go again’, with brave hearts and renewed fight to make a difference.

Indeed, it is the extraordinary commitment and strength of character of managers that is, perhaps, the biggest revelation for me. It has been an honour to see managers growing together into a force to be reckoned with, challenging one another, acting as colleagues rather than competitors. Some of the innovation that we have seen shows how, despite it all, there remains a hunger within care homes to continue the journey of improvement.

Projections for the next decade

As 2017 arrives, I feel older but not necessarily wiser about the future. Right now, it feels difficult to predict how things will pan out domestically and across the globe for any of us.

Whatever happens, it’s not going to be pretty. Care homes will close; budgets will keep tightening; and the doctrine of ‘care homes as last resort’ will become even more embedded in commissioners’ practices. None of this bodes well for future, positive partnership or investment.

The key message is the importance of taking active steps to weather this storm. We are cogs in a broken system, it feels as if we are on a hamster-wheel. Looking after ourselves and taking our own resilience seriously is crucial. The world is changing and we need to be emotionally strong enough to take tough decisions to guide ourselves to safety. A workforce that feels worn out is a workforce that will not find it easy to set a new direction of travel.

With resilience comes increased confidence, which will help us turn the tide. We can work better together, to communicate to the world the difference we make every day. We can take steps to demonstrate that we are a professional sector, constantly reflecting on practice and taking ownership of the agenda for change and improvement. We can reach out to commissioners and communities and offer ourselves as a solution to the increasingly diverse needs and aspirations of our communities and the challenges facing health and social care.

However 2017 pans out, My Home Life will carry on offering encouragement and professional support to practitioners to help them promote quality of life in their care homes. CMM

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